These days you can get everything you want online. Seriously. You can order cereal and a new bed and designer shoes–often through the same online shop! Just because there are literally thousands (maybe even millions) of online shops out there that are happy to sell you anything you want, doesn’t mean that every sales-based website you encounter deserves your time, money or even your traffic.
Many of the e-commerce entrepreneurs out there mean well; they just started up their businesses before they knew what they were doing. However, it is also important to understand that it is an unfortunate reality in today’s world that there are scams and scam artists out there masquerading as legitimate businesses. So how do you tell the difference? How do you keep yourself safe and ensure a good shopping experience?
First and foremost, double and triple check the shopping site’s security. Sure you put security software on your own machine and have blocked cookies, but that isn’t enough. You need to make sure that the site you’re buying from has top-notch network security backing them up. Why? Because even big names can have problems.
Remember the Target fiasco a couple of years ago? If they’d had the proper security in place they could have prevented the theft of tons of private information.
Let’s say you want to redecorate your bedroom and you’re looking for unique pieces and independent makers. After security, the best way to make sure that the online shop you’re patronizing is legitimate is to check out its physical information. Does the shop have a physical location that you can visit? Does it have a phone number you can call if you experience a problem? Are they listed with their local Secretary of State’s office? If you can’t find any details or the ones provided are false (a quick Google search will help you figure that out) or seem sketchy, do not buy from that site or that seller!
For example, in Portland, there is a yarn designer who operates primarily online. Her fibers are available at a few local stores but she primarily sells through her Etsy shop. Even so, in addition to her Etsy verification, she includes information about the physical location of her shop, offers contact information and even invites fiber artists to her studio for “yarn ins.” That is what to look for when shopping with an independent seller online.
Listen up any hopeful eMerchants who might be reading this! You will do a lot more to earn our loyalty and money by providing excellent customer service than you will with a flashy website or cheap prices. It is important that we can talk to someone in real time when there are issues and even more important that your agents resolve our problems to our satisfaction.
It’s also worth understanding that customer service is not just about interpersonal communication. When shopping online, details like personalization matter as well! We want to be able to return to our shopping carts. We want accurate “related products” recommendations.
The best example of both of these types of customer service, hands down, is Amazon. Pay attention to how they interact with their customers and then emulate their efforts the best you can.
Perhaps the best reason to choose or continue to choose one online store over another is what they do to keep you interested in their offerings. Discounts and loyalty programs go a long way toward retaining my business and encouraging me to shop. Look for these programs and then actually look at their terms and conditions when you sign up. Make sure they have language about not selling your information, only emailing you for promotional purposes, etc. If that’s missing, choose another online vendor.
Arguably, the best example of a good online rewards program is the one offered through Old Navy. Sure, they email a lot but so far I have yet to receive an email that hasn’t been useful in some way. On the other end of the spectrum is GoDaddy. They email every day but it’s rarely interesting or informative and their discount codes are rarely codes that I can actually use.
These are all important qualities to look for in an online or ecommerce shopping outlet before you complete even a single purchase. And vendors, take note: these steps will help legitimize your store and encourage people to trust you over your competitors!